'I hope you will stay at least a few days.'

“I hope you will stay at least a few days, for your mother’s sake,” Leofric said as he and his son came into his study after dinner.

“I suppose I shall,” Sigefrith said. “It’s an agreeable change to have someone to fuss over me again.”

“Runt, you have just stated in one sentence what it took me half an hour to explain to Sigefrith—namely, why I want to be with your mother after… everything.”

'Runt, you have just stated in one sentence what it took me half an hour to explain to Sigefrith.'

“So you have someone to fuss over you?”

“When you’re my age, you will appreciate the worth of such a woman.”

“I wouldn’t mind having one now,” Sigefrith said miserably.

“Oh, Hilda! She’ll never fuss, not when you’re fifty.”

“I can come here for the fussing. I would simply be happy if she were kind to me once in a while.”

'I would simply be happy if she were kind to me once in a while.'

“What’s she done now? You need another drink,” Leofric said and went to pour.

“Nothing new. I think she got accustomed to me being gone last year and decided she liked it better. And now that my mother is gone and she has the house to herself, I think she wishes I would go away again.”

“Sigefrith…” Leofric said ominously.


“I know. I know.”

“I warned you, runt. When once a woman tells you to hit her, you had better hit her so hard she won’t ask you again. Otherwise she will rule over you all the rest of your days. And she won’t have the respect for you she has for a dog.”

“Is that how you treated my mother?”

“Your mother never asked me to hit her.”

“You simply did it out of generosity,” Sigefrith said sarcastically.

'You simply did it out of generosity.'

“I simply did it because she needed it. But far less than Hilda does. You’ve let things go on too long.”

“What do you suggest I do? Go home and hit my wife? What will Haakon think of me then?”

“What do you think of me?”

“I told you—if you lay a hand on her again, I shall not hesitate to kill you.”

“Sigefrith warned me you could do it, too,” Leofric smiled.

'Sigefrith warned me you could do it, too.'

“This time I would not fail.”

“Quit glaring at me, runt!” Leofric handed him his cup. “I shan’t touch her again. I’m too old and too tired. And I never hit a pregnant woman, and you had better not either, or I shall slay you myself.”

And my mother doesn’t deserve it,” Sigefrith insisted.

“Nor does she deserve it,” Leofric agreed. He lifted his cup in her honor. “She has been a good little woman. God only knows why she wants me.

“Don’t you suppose she loves you?”

“It’s the only explanation I can find, though I have never claimed to understand women.”

“Except insofar as they require beatings.”

'Except insofar as they require beatings.'

Leofric stared down into his cup and chuckled.

“I don’t understand them either,” Sigefrith whined. “Why? Do they like it when you hit them?”

“God only knows.”

“That’s Hilda for you,” Sigefrith said, splashing his wine over the rim of his cup in agitation. “She says that if I were half the man you were, I would hit her. She says that if I were half the man you were, I would have ten mistresses.”

“Ten?” Leofric laughed. “Son of a serpent! That means she thinks I have twenty! God help me! I couldn’t keep twenty names straight!”

'God help me!  I couldn't keep twenty names straight!'

Sigefrith did not laugh.

“Listen, runt. It’s easy. Hilda is telling you what she thinks a man is—although I am agreeably surprised, not to say flattered, to find that she thinks me a model,” he chuckled to himself. “But if you want her to think you’re one, then you need to do as she says. If she says a man would hit her, then hit her. If she says a man would have mistresses, then go get some for yourself—although twenty might be a few too many,” he laughed. “Start out with one or two to get accustomed to the idea. And to the labor.”

Still Sigefrith did not laugh.

Still Sigefrith did not laugh.

“Come now, runt,” Leofric said. “She’s young. It’s not too late to make her into another sort of woman.”

“It is she who is making me into another sort of man,” Sigefrith said bitterly. “Why couldn’t she love me for being kind to her, instead of forcing me to be cruel to her?”

“Ah, if you had wanted that, you should have married a girl like your sister. The more kindly you treat them, the sweeter they become.”

'The more kindly you treat them, the sweeter they become.'

“I would have, if I had had the choice.”

“You certainly had the choice when you got into the bed of your lord’s daughter.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. Did I? Sometimes I think she planned it that way. Sometimes I think she saw me as a relatively stupid man who could be used as a way to escape from her father’s house.”

“Ah, that. You would not be the first man to have been so used,” Leofric said grimly.

“But she was too clever for her own good. Because now she’s trapped with a stupid man whom she despises. She should have married Eirik, or some such man. And I should have married a girl like Eadie.”

'And I should have married a girl like Eadie.'

“There are few enough of those.” Leofric raised his cup again.

“But there are a few,” Sigefrith insisted.

“Perhaps not for dogs such as we.”

'Perhaps not for dogs such as we.'